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9-27-20 — The Way — Matthew 22:34-40 — The Rev. Joshua D. Gill

The Way                                           


In his book Dangerous Wonder Mike Yaconelli, one of the fathers of modern Youth Ministry shares a story about how he worked hard to fulfill the command of loving his neighbor. They had just moved into the neighborhood in a very small town. The neighbors had heard Mike was a pastor and kept their distance.  They would wave on occasion but generally avoided them. One night Mike was sitting outside with his wife Karla on the deck. It was about ten o’clock at night and the teenage boys next door were playing basketball and it was getting a little loud. Their parents were clearly out for the night because one of the boys had parked the truck on the front lawn and was blasting music from the truck. Mike thought this was funny and decided to add a little more life to the evening. He looked at his wife and said “July Fourth was two weeks ago,” She responded “Glad to see you are in the same month as the rest of us.”  He said, “No, no. I mean I have a few fireworks left. Do you want to throw a firecracker over the fence and see what happens.” She looked at him sternly. “Are you serious?” With a mischievous smile Mike said “Yes”.  They threw a firecracker over the fence. Then ran behind the tree. No response. So, Mike lit a string of firecrackers and tossed them over the fence, being careful to avoid anyone. Bang! Bang-bang-bang-bang! Suddenly the music stopped. Mike and Karla could hear whispering; the boys were trying to figure out what was going on. Mike and Karla stayed hiding behind the trees. Suddenly they saw several flashlights coming into the yard. One of the boys said it must be Jessica or Jonathan (Mike and Karla’s kids). Mike and Karla stood watching from the behind the tree, when suddenly one of the boys caught sight of them. He stood there for moment mouth hanging open, processing what he was seeing. Suddenly he yelled, “Oh my gosh! It’s the parents!” Ten minutes later Mike and Karla looked out the window and the boys were lobbing toilet paper over the house. Mike and Karla filled up some water guns and water balloons and responded.  Needless to say, the neighbors stopped avoiding Mike and Karla and they were able they were able to demonstrate the love of God to them.[1]

Our new testament passage is a familiar story and familiar setup. The Pharisees are trying to debate Jesus. They had heard how he had silenced the Sadducees and wanted to test him. They ask him what the greatest commandment is. There were 613 commandments for him to choose from. This would have been a very safe answer, most would have agreed with Jesus’s interpretation. In fact, this commandment is part of the Shema; a prayer that is prayed twice daily by devout Jews worldwide.

Jesus says the command to Love God and neighbor is the key to understanding the law and the prophets, and I would argue it is the key to understanding all of life. When framed this way we can see how challenging it is. A challenge to love God with our heart, mind, and soul! A challenge to love our neighbor in the same way. We are living in a moment when it seems common civility has been thrown out the window. Just the other day I was driving down route 30 coming home to York from visiting with family and a car pulled in front of me. It was covered in stickers, and one in particular caught my eye; it was the image of hand with one finger extended. Talk about first impressions. The outrage machine rewards the loudest and most outlandish comments. But in the midst of this, God calls us to love. Love is the call, Love is the challenge, Love is the key to navigating this world.

At times it may be frustrating to wear a mask when in public, but it is a way we can show our love toward the most vulnerable among us.

We may not understand institutional racism or how it has affected and shaped the world around us. We may not understand the experience that someone else has lived, but we are called to love. And that love should push us toward action.

We may not have experienced hunger or poverty, but we are called to Love. And that love should push us toward action.

We may not understand what it is like to fear for our own safety or to flee an unjust society. But we are called. And that love should push us toward action.

Love is the guiding principal; Love is an invitation to a new way of life in which, bit by bit, hatred and pride can be left behind, and love should become our new reality. Love is a call from God to strive for Justice and Unity to show the world a better way. That we can silence the outrage machine and love one another.

As I part of this sermon, I want to offer to you a tool that I have found helpful over the years in my spiritual journey. Jared Boyd wrote a book called Imaginative prayer: Year Long Guide to Your Child’s Spiritual Formation. In this book participants are invited to imagine the words of the prayer and place themselves in the middle the prayer. While this a book written for children, this is an exercise we can all benefit from.  In a moment you will want to get into a position that is pretty comfortable for you. Then I am going to invite you to close your eyes, yes this is dangerous on wet Sunday morning. But I want you to breathe slowly and imagine with me.  There will be several pauses or moments of silence in this prayer, I would invite you to embrace that silence and allow God to fill you…

Close your eyes and let’s take a few breaths and focus.

God, I pray that you will release our imagination and help us to hear you speak to us during this time together. We open our hands to you. We open our ears to you. Come, Holy Spirit.  Breathe in the Spirit and exhale the love of God.


(pause 8-10 seconds)


Imagine with me for a moment that you are part of a club.


(pause 5 seconds)


Imagine you are part of a club, but it isn’t a secret club—it’s a club anyone can join. There are no secret passwords. There are no secret handshakes. There are no secret knocks on the door of a treehouse. Everyone is welcome.


There are no special things for you to buy to be a part of this club. There are no monthly dues to pay.


Imagine you are at a club meeting when a discussion is going on about how to let people know that you are part of the club. Some people suggest that everyone wear green scarves. Imagine being in a club where everyone had to wear a green scarf. Imagine yourself wearing a green scarf.


Everyone decides that this is a fun idea, but some decide that scarfs are not the best, some suggest hats, or necklaces, or bracelets.


What do you think should be the thing that sets your special club apart? What do you think club members should do to let everyone else know that you are part of this special club?


(pause 5-8 seconds)


Do you think it should be about something you wear? Or maybe it should be something that you all do? Perhaps you could all learn the same dance or have a special song that everyone sings.


Imagine with me that someone has drawn a picture of a button. Imagine this person wants everyone to wear a button on their shirt to let everyone else know that they are a part of the club. This is another good idea, but there still is something missing. It just doesn’t seem to fit.


Some people want to create a list of rules for the club. They want to say that members of the club can’t wear the color orange, for example. One person wants all the members of the club to only eat with their hands—no forks, no knives, no spoons. Just hands.


What would you suggest?


(pause 5-8 seconds)


Imagine now that someone stands up in front of everyone else. You are curious what this person might say, and you are curious because this is the leader of the club. This is the person who started the club in the first place.


Everyone is quiet and silent, waiting for the leader of the club to speak.


(pause 5 seconds)


The leader begins to speak:  “I know that many of you are wondering what sort of button or special handshake we might have for our club. I too have been thinking about this—and I have an idea.


“What if people could know we all belong together and are all a part of the same club simply because of our love?  What if we loved each other so well that people would notice? What if when people saw us loving each other, they would know that we are members of the club?”


Think about this for a moment. What would it feel like to be a part of a club where the special thing that held you all together was your love?


(pause 5-8 seconds)


Everyone in the club is thinking about this suggestion. The people take off their hats. The people with scarves take off their scarves. The people making buttons set down their art supplies. Everyone is listening to the leader who begins to speak again. “Imagine if all of us simply love each other so well that people will want to join the club. Imagine if we welcomed everyone.”


(pause 5 seconds)


That love becomes your badge of membership.


You see people around you serving each other, helping, and saying nice things about each other.


This is the command that Jesus gave us when he invited us all to follow him.


He said:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’


Love looks like being patient and kind and not making a list of people’s mistakes.


Love looks like inviting people who may be left out.


Love looks like taking care of people when they need help.


We love others with the love that God pours into us.


People will know that we are followers of Jesus because of our love for each other.[2]



[1] Yaconelli, Mike, Dangerous Wonder, The Adventure of Childlike Faith, NavPress, pg. 69-70

[2] Boyd, Jared Patrick. Imaginative Prayer: A Yearlong Guide for Your Child’s Spiritual Formation . InterVarsity Press. Pg. 108-111.


9-20-20 — The Resurrection and the Life — Ezekiel 37: 1-10, John 11:17-27 — The Rev. Joshua D. Gill

The Resurrection and the Life

Ezekiel 37:1-10

John 11:17-27



It was a great first week in the office. I learned a few things already. I learned that we have some truly wonderful amazing volunteers. I looked out my office window on Monday morning and saw people working to beautify the campus, and throughout the week I saw faithful groups of volunteers go about the business of the church both in person and on zoom.  I also learned how truly wonderful the staff is at EPC. It has been a joy getting to know them and spending time with them this week.

One of things that is fascinating about our call process is you get to know a small group from a church very well, but you really don’t know anyone else. In an effort to get to know everyone better I hope to do two things the first is to have something called Tree Chats. This will be an informal opportunity to chat and get to know folks. We will meet here under the trees as well as on Zoom. There will be several different times offered and folks will need to sign-up so we can keep the groups small. We will have sign-up information out next week. The second is over the next the two weeks I hope to share with you to share with you two themes of scripture that are close to my heart and central to how understand the gospel and the world. Hearing these themes will give you a glimpse into my own journey that has led me to this moment.

In his memoir called “the Pastor”. Eugene Peterson tells a story about his son coming home from college. His son, Leif was sharing with his father what he had learned over the last year, and one of things he said was that “Dad, novelists only write one book. They find their voice, their book. And write it over and over.” Several days later, Leif said to his father, “Remember what I said about novelists writing only one book? Dad I have realized you only preach one sermon.” Eugene Peterson was hurt by this comment. He didn’t repeat himself in the pulpit. He preached through the entirety of the Scriptures, handling different genres, different modes of application to his people. One Sunday morning, though, after hearing his father preach, Leif said, “Well, Dad, that was your sermon. I’ve been listening to that sermon all of my life, your one sermon, your signature sermon.” Leif went on to say, it was so hard to find a church near his college town. “Most of those other pastors had not yet found their sermon. ”[1] While I would never compare myself to Eugene Peterson, I think his son makes a point. Eugene Peterson worked his entire life to share the story of Jesus, to share his awe of Jesus. I hope this is the story that my children hear, my church hears, and the strangers I meet hear. The story of Jesus.

We enter into a familiar text in the book of John. Jesus had been traveling and his friend Lazarus has died. Jesus goes back to the family but is not in any sort of obvious hurry. Martha rushes to confront Jesus while Mary stays at home. Many of us are like that at times, rushing off to confront God. If only you had been here my brother may not have died. What “if only” statements do you need to express to God?  “ if only” they hadn’t gotten sick, “if only” that job had worked out… “if only” fill in your blank…. Know that when you ask these questions you are in good company.  Our psalms are filled with these moments where God is invited into our pain.

Jesus invites Martha to try something different to look to the future. To see her brother through the eyes of Isaiah chapter 65, “ For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people, no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.”[2] Martha’s response to Jesus is very flat, she is not feeling comforted by this moment.  Jesus invites her forward. The new creation is standing in front of her moving from the end of all time to that moment and he invites her to recognize it. Jesus says to her “I am the resurrection and the life.”  Resurrection isn’t just a doctrine the Church teaches –resurrection is a lived-out reality. Resurrection is the understanding that God always has the final word. Resurrection is the understanding that God may surprise us in the midst of difficult circumstances. Resurrection is the understanding that what causes us to weep, causes God to weep; it is the understanding that people can change, that addictions can be managed, that new starts can be had. We are invited to this lived reality. How will you accept Jesus’ invitation to see and live the resurrection?

It goes without saying we are living in unprecedented times. The larger Church and EPC is navigating difficult cultural and societal landscapes as we live through another divisive election season and as we continue to navigate this pandemic. Moments like these should draw us together and remind us how much we need one another. Several years ago, I took a group of kids on a week of high adventure. We went caving, repelling, mountain biking, it was an amazing trip and toward the end of the week we went white-water rafting. We were in our rafts going down the river. It was beautiful, fun, and exciting but part way down the river we came to a series of rocks that were very difficult to navigate. I was in the front of the raft. If you have never been white water rafting, they tell you if a corner of the boats hits a rock and starts to pop up, jump on it.  As we entered the rapid you need to zig zag and start by paddling to the left and then almost immediately start paddling to the right. We made it past the first rock but some members on the boat missed the fact that we needed to change directions and were actually paddling the wrong direction, we hit a rock, and the boat started to pop up. I jumped at the corner of where we struck the rock.  It also happened to be the location of one of my students. I think she was a little frightened at the sight of her youth pastor jumping toward her, and rather than help me, she shoved me out of the boat into the river. Needless to say, the raft flipped over. I remember panicking and counting heads, and what I saw was truly heartening — all the kids were helping each other, reminding each other to pull up their feet and float with the river; not to fight but to allow it to take you and avoid the rocks. They worked hard to stay together and when we were clear of the rapids we collected our raft, our pride, and climbed back in and worked together as a team to navigate rapids. Suddenly we all understood how critical it was to work together.

This is our call as a church to see and live the resurrection and work together to be faithful to that call from Jesus. To navigate the difficult waters we are presented with, to not put our feet down and get pulled under, but to work together to see where God will take us. I am excited to be on this journey with you!




[2] Isaiah 65:17-19

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